What Is Online Security? The Definitive Guide for 2021
Last Updated: July 13, 2021
The internet has become a global space that has fostered interaction among millions of netizens. While this development is incredibly useful for humanity, the dark web exists where many evil and fraudulent activities occur on the internet. Internet users are left vulnerable and at risk of falling victim to these cybercriminals, leading to the necessity of online security. This article will explain what online security and safety entails, the possible threats to you on the internet, and how you can be safer online.
Online Security and Internet Safety
Online security includes the different principles followed and the steps taken to protect online user data and privacy from cybercriminals. It is the entire system set up to prevent internet threats such as identity and credit card theft or malware attacks from occurring.
On the other hand, online safety refers to the act of staying safe on the internet. It is the way internet users protect themselves and their devices from security threats on the internet. Online security and safety are not easily distinguishable. But we understand that online security guarantees or leads to online safety.
Threats to Your Online Security
The need for online security is predicated because there are some threats to your online data and activities’ safety. Some of these threats include:
Malware is currently one of the greatest threats to online security. It is usually programmed to infect any device it gets onto maliciously. The significant types of malware include:
Viruses: All malware is sometimes generally classed as viruses. However, this isn’t right. Viruses modify legitimate files on the host computer so that when these files are executed, the virus is also executed. Since they infect other files on your computer, eliminating them is more complicated than different malware types.
Worms: Worms are self-replicating malware that lodge in the computer memory and don’t need to be attached to another program or application. They usually attack all the devices on a particular network.
Adware: Adware infects your computer when you click on malicious ads on websites. Most websites use ads for revenue, and hackers can insert malicious ads among legitimate ads to infect internet users.
Spyware: This malware is used to spy and keep tabs on your online activities. It can also log your keystrokes to get your passwords.
Ransomware: This kind of malware holds your data hostage by encrypting it and allowing you to access it only after paying a ransom.
Trojans: Trojans mask as legitimate programs/applications but have malicious instructions.
Phishing is a fraudulent attempt by cybercriminals to deceive you into giving up your personal and financial details through emails or websites. It involves pretending to be a legitimate business, offering a service that the target needs or wants, followed by a link to click where you may have to input the details they need to defraud you.
Phishing attacks can be made through many means, including:
- Fake emails, SMS, and websites
- Forged websites
- Social engineering
- Website redirects (where legitimate websites are hacked and users are redirected to fake websites run by the cybercriminals)
3. Spear Phishing
Spear phishing is a more targeted form of phishing where the hacker impersonates someone known to the victim. Thinking this is a trusted recipient, the victim divulges personal information, which is then stolen.
4. Application Vulnerabilities
Applications can sometimes have vulnerabilities hidden in their program code in the form of bugs or errors. These vulnerabilities can be exploited by cybercriminals to steal data from the users of such applications. Application managers, however, identify and fix these vulnerabilities with continuous updates of their program.
Of course, scammers have been active before the invention of the internet. However, the internet has increased their reach and given them a more effective tool to execute their schemes. The goal of scam tricks is to get the victims to divulge their sensitive information (such as financial details, Social Security Number, or email login details) to steal their money or identity.
Scams are less technical than other online security threats. Online scammers usually employ phishing tactics, but they also use Ponzi/Pyramid schemes, advance-fee scams, betting or employment scams, bitcoin scams, classified ads, etc.
6. Man-in-the-Middle (MITM) Attacks
MITM attacks require the cybercriminal to take up a position between the sender and the online data recipient. Such data is then intercepted and altered how and for any purpose the attacker wants. The sender and the recipient think that they are communicating with each other, but they are each communicating with the middle man. For example, a cybercriminal could intercept your communication with your messaging service provider or banking facilities and then steal your login or financial details.
MITM attacks can use any of the following methods:
Spamming is the use of messaging platforms for the mass distribution of unsolicited messages. These messages could contain just about anything, and they could be sent through any messaging platform such as emails, blogs, websites, messaging apps, or even social media. However, email spams are the most popular of all. Spamming is a very irritating online attack, which could also be dangerous. It could affect your online security if it doubles as a phishing attempt or where the spam message contains malicious links or even malware.
8. DoS and DDoS Attacks
DoS (Denial of Service) and DDoS (Distributed Denial of Service) occur where network servers are overwhelmed and take down a website or online service for some time. DoS attacks originate from a single source, while DDoS attacks come from multiple infected computers. Apart from the annoyance this causes, it may not always be an immediate threat to online security. Except the cybercriminals are hiding behind such attacks to perpetrate other cybercrimes. This threat can also lead to customer dissatisfaction on the part of users of the website or blog.
Steps to Guarantee Your Safety Online
It is almost useless to learn about online security threats without also learning how to protect yourself from these threats. The following steps will help you become safer while using the internet:
Step 1: Have a Strong Password
We shouldn’t have to stress the importance of a strong password because anyone who cracks your passwords has access to your devices and online data. First, you must have separate passwords for your online accounts. If you use a single password for multiple accounts and that password is compromised, the hacker can access all your accounts. With different passwords, they may resort to hacking individually, which is more challenging. It would be even better if you also changed your passwords regularly. Further tips for a strong password include:
- Don’t use the typical passwords such as your name or birthday or that of a significant other
- Have long passwords
- Include uppercase and lowercase letters
- Mix symbols, numbers, and spaces
Step 2: Use a Virtual Private Network (VPN)
A VPN can mask your IP address, enabling you to browse the internet without digital footprints. Apart from accessing restricted and censored content on the internet, there are many other ways a VPN can keep you safe online. VPNs grant a secure connection between your device and an internet server so that the data being exchanged can neither be monitored nor accessed. Good VPNs use military-grade encryption for your online connections, making a hack impossible. They also conceal your actual location, and many VPNs even guarantee protection over unsecured networks.
Furthermore, great VPNs keep no log of your online activities. This feature eliminates the fear of these details falling into the wrong hands.
Step 3: Use a Robust Antivirus Application
While VPNs are great for privacy and encryption, they cannot protect your device from malware. So, you need a reliable antivirus/antimalware program to protect you from viruses/malware. With antivirus, you can frequently scan, identify, and eliminate viruses. It would be best if you did this, especially after visiting unsecured sites or downloading online data. It is wise not to open a downloaded file before scanning it for viruses.
There are many useful antivirus apps, so it shouldn’t be challenging to make the right choice. Install updates as soon as a new version is available because a more recent version provides better security. Finally, as with most online protection sources, it is advisable to choose a paid option over a free service.
Step 4: Avoid Unsecured Public Networks
To be safe online, you should avoid using unsecured public networks such as WiFis. The absence of encryption on these networks enables cybercriminals to snoop on your online activities and intercept/steal sensitive information. Cybercriminals even stalk WiFi networks, seeking to take advantage of this weakness.
If you must use WiFi, do not use it for highly sensitive activities which require you to input personal details, such as financial transactions. Also, set your devices to forget public networks you have previously used. Usually, a device will automatically connect to a WiFi network it has used before. If cybercriminals imitate such a network, an automatic connection can give the hacker access to your online data.
Step 5: Switch Off the Location Feature on Your Devices
The geo-location feature on devices has its good uses. However, it can also threaten our online security. Geo-location means that any big company, with the necessary resources, can keep a consistent tab on your location. If such a tab can be maintained, it can also be leaked by some applications or malicious content.
Geo-location may not put you in immediate danger; however, the fact that your every activity online can be accurately tracked to a physical location is quite scary and should be prevented. Therefore, you should always switch off your location features, except it is required for specific online activities, after which you should switch it off again.
Step 6: Update Your Device Operating System
Operating System updates can be a bore, but such updates are for your good. Hackers generally exploit any vulnerability in an OS or any other application to wreak havoc on your online security. OS and app providers usually identify these vulnerabilities in their program and fix them with an update. An OS’s update could imply a vulnerability in the older version, and all a hacker needs to do is identify the vulnerability and use it. Therefore, despite the cost and time spent on updates, you should endeavor to do them very early.
The Importance of Online Security
The world has gone digital. This means that a lot of our communications and information are exchanged and available online. From identity theft to financial scams, this data faces significant risks online. Therefore, it is only a consciousness of online security and taking active steps that will guarantee that our online data will not be compromised.
Since we all have essential online data that we don’t want to be compromised, we shouldn’t have to learn the importance of online security the hard way. So, you must take online security seriously and observe the steps discussed above to boost your safety while online.